Film festivals are unique for the breadth of content they make available to audiences. Where this power is quickly becoming wielded by the various streaming services flooding our TVs, film festivals become not only a viewing experience but a celebration of diverse content and exploration of cultures different than our own. For this year’s 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas bring to audiences Naked Gardens, a film wholly dedicated to capturing the nudist culture at Sunsport Gardens Resort in Florida.
Lack of Connection
Naked Gardens begins with a quote from Albert Camus‘s The Rebel, framing the act of nudism from the very start. Where context is given to the practice in the interpretation of others’ words, Naked Gardens presents the natural aspect of the culture, moving from its opening quote to nature itself. The camera holds its lens on the scenery, birds chirping and the sun breaking through the trees. Viewers are left to take in the beauty of nature, the only break of human interference is a small road running through it.
All roads lead back to the idea of nature and being free, this particular road taking viewers to the entrance of Sunsport Gardens – a family resort. The camera begins to slowly take in the resort, a menagerie of individuals continuing about their day, completely in the nude. For a moment, the film only seems to capture the older population until its settles on a woman and child in the shower. While the nudity is the primary focus, one can not help but take in the quiet and the tranquility of the resort. The question is begging – is it the nudity that has delivered this framework or the resort itself.
Yet, as tranquil as the resort is, Naked Gardens struggles to establish its primary focus. There is no real sense of gaining new information regarding the culture, the various tenants moving in and out of frame. Each has its own story, but neither story really seems to be affected by the resort lifestyle they have chosen. To be honest, at times it feels like a seasonal resort documentary where there just happens to be nudity. Staff members and stockholders debate the nudity requirements, as well as aesthetic enhancements to the resort, nudity again only a portion of their debates and conversations. As the documentary continues, it seems for a moment it is building to its yearly winter festival, yet again it is a festival that happens to have nudity.
What is the film trying to say? This is a hard question to answer having screened the film. There are so many individuals Naked Gardens wants to focus on without truly diving into who they are and why they have chosen to live here. Occasionally, the film tapes into it – especially on the idea of escaping judgment – but too often it feels like Naked Gardens is lost in what it is trying to convey to its audience. This lack of focus leaves the documentary uncompelling, lacking any sense of enlightenment or informative nature. And sadly, many will find it hard to connect.
Where Naked Gardens does find its strength is in its sense of community. The lifestyle of nudism is intimate and a shared communal experience. Naked Gardens relates the deep wells of community through the shared stories and experiences of the individuals living on the resort, but also through the idea of a community raising a child. From fishing to teaching to birthday celebrations, Naked Gardens captures the community working as one for the betterment of all.
Naked Gardens feels as though it is trying to normalize nudism and make the idea more accessible to its audience. It is a commendable attempt, yet it falls flat in its delivery. Had the film dove deeper into its inhabitants, the film may have lent itself to a more compelling watch, exposing audiences not only to the culture itself but deeper to those who have chosen it for themselves.
Have you seen Naked Gardens? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Naked Gardens premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival June 10, 2022!
Watch Naked Gardens
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